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February 2005 | Volume 62 | Number 5
How Schools Improve Pages 22-27

Looking at Student Work

Georgea M. Langer and Amy B. Colton

Collaborative analysis of student learning can be the lifeblood of school improvement.

Why do the majority of school improvement efforts fail to develop true learning communities? Because they don't adequately engage teachers in collaborative inquiry where it matters most: in the daily learning-teaching interactions between students and teachers. Our experiences studying teachers' development over the last 17 years have culminated in what we refer to as collaborative analysis of student learning (CASL), a particular form of learning community in which teachers discover the relationship between their instruction and student performance on classroom assessments and other samples of student work (Langer, Colton, & Goff, 2003). We define student work as any data or evidence collected by teachers that reveals information about student learning. Such evidence can come from teacher observations, student performances, writing samples, classroom assessments, and standardized tests. These data provide windows into students' understanding of key ideas and skills.

The idea of analyzing student work is not new. We suggest, however, that the approach has little potential to transform teaching or improve schools unless educators conceive it more broadly as collaborative inquiry, which places the student at the heart of the endeavor. Collaborative inquiry is most powerful when teachers look at an individual learner's progress over time; when a theoretical framework guides the inquiry process; when teachers learn and follow collaborative norms; and when leadership and structures support the inquiry. As a result, teachers discover how specific students' understanding evolves and how they, as teachers, can promote this understanding. The approach also encourages school policies and practices that support learning at all levels (Langer et al., 2003).

What Does Collaborative Inquiry Look Like?


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